Cheap and cheerful in Chiang Mai

By the time we arrived in Chiang Mai, we’d realised we needed to tighten the budget belt a little after a few days of indulgence in Kanchanaburi and at Elephant Haven. Whoops.

We stayed in Seven Century Guesthouse for a couple of days, which turned out to be a mistake I wouldn’t make twice! The rooms smelt very strange and the bathroom situation wasn’t great. Two shared bathrooms between six rooms would normally be ok, but not when one of the bathrooms has a curtain rather than a door. Thankfully, we only stayed two nights here!

Just one of Chiang Mai’s many beautiful temples

Things to do

Hire a scooter from Mr Mechanic – We wanted a scooter to explore some of the places outside the city itself, and we’d heard that Mr Mechanic was our man. True to the fantastic reviews, Mr Mechanic provided us with two super-reliable scooters and a discount to boot. We paid 220 baht per day for our scooter, which included insurance and two helmets.

Visit Mae Sa Waterfall – We were a little disappointed by the pricing structure at the entrance to this waterfall – the traditional Foreigner Price (100 baht) vs. Local Price (20 baht) was well and truly established here. On top of this, we also had to pay 20 baht for parking!

Beautiful Mae Sa Waterfall

This said, I was pleasantly surprised once we got inside and started the walk up through the various levels of this 10-tier waterfall. Most of the paths and viewing platforms are clean, easy-to-navigate and well-maintained. The waterfalls themselves are small but beautiful and their surroundings in the lush woodland are very pretty.

While the final viewing platform at the tenth tier is in a disappointing state of disrepair, there’s a rocky area where you can sit, or go swimming in the freezing but super-clear pools at the top.

Go to the Grand Canyon (Hang Dong Canyon) – Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon is, admittedly, on a smaller scale than the original. That said, it’s a fun trip out and can be easily combined with a trip to Mae Sa Waterfall. The views around the canyon are beautiful and it’s a pretty enjoyable scooter ride too.

A glorious day at Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon

Admission is 50 baht but it will cost slightly more if you want to swim. Parking is free – rare in Thailand! There are inner tubes and paddle boards for rent and, of course, there’s cliff-jumping. There were apparently a few accidents some years ago, and security and safety procedures seem to have been stepped up since then. We didn’t try it, but we watched a few people go off and it looked like great fun.

The on-site café is a total rip-off though, with the standard inflated tourist prices. You’ll find plenty of cheaper stalls on the roadsides to eat at, and they’ll probably taste better too!

Do some shopping at the Sunday Night Market – Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Market is located in the area around Tha Phae Gate and Walking Street on weekends. It’s a bustling market which sprawls into the side streets around it and is filled with tourists and locals alike. The food is fantastic and pretty cheap. The Pad Thai here was some of the best I’ve had and there are some great vegetarian options too.

A beautiful scene en route to the night market

There are also stalls selling various arts and crafts, souvenirs, and the occasional fake branded-goods stall too. It’s a lovely way to spend an evening.

Take a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park – This was undoubtedly the best thing we did while in Chiang Mai. A two-hour scooter ride from the city itself, Doi Inthanon National Park is a majestically beautiful example of Thailand at its very best. It’s home to the highest point in Thailand too – so bring a jumper because it gets cooooold.

Set off early to beat the crowds and clouds as the weather normally changes around 2pm. Once the clouds roll in, your view will be completely obscured.

The stunning Doi Inthanon National Park near Chiang Mai

Entrance to the National Park cost us 300 baht each and 20baht for the scooter. We also paid 40baht to visit the famous Twin Chedis. All admission costs were well worth it as this was one of my standout trips from our time in Thailand. The park is also very well policed and maintained, so those admission fees are clearly being put to good use. There is, of course, the standard Foreigner Price vs. Local Price, but we were used to it by then.

The famous Twin Chedis at Doi Inthanon National Park

The roads throughout the park are stunning and provide some incredible views across the scenery. Be warned though, it gets high and the roads are steep. How our poor little scooter carried us both all the way to the top, I’ll never know. If you’re riding solo though, you’ll have a great time and probably won’t find it half as difficult.

Take a trip to Pai – This isn’t something you can do in a day, but Pai is a lovely little town with a relaxed vibe and stunning scenery. It’s a beautiful three-hour ride from Chiang Mai and you can read more about our trip here.

Where to eat

Jok Sompet The delicious Chinese-style buns they serve for breakfast here are the best way to start your day! The rest of the menu is mostly traditional Thai food with the odd western dish thrown in. Everything is reasonably priced and the coffee is pretty good too.

Burgers and Spring Rolls Bizarrely, given the name, we actually had pizza here! The spring rolls were brilliant but it was their Thai green curry pizza that really knocked our socks off. Food here is on the pricey side for Chiang Mai but it’s worth it for the good service and tasty food.

Unexpectedly delicious Thai Green Curry Pizza from Burgers and Spring Rolls

Kabab House Chiang Mai – Home to one of the most colourful restaurant managers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Great bants, great service and deliciously authentic Indian food at decent prices. I went full Brit-abroad and ordered the chicken tikka masala, which was utterly incredible.